Plastic products provide significant benefits to people, the economy, and the environment.
Globally the world is looking for ways to improve overall circularity, including decreasing waste and improving both resource and energy efficiency, whilst meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The lightweight, hygiene, design flexibility and cost properties of plastics make it a material of choice for many applications.
Products should be designed to ensure they achieve their highest possible use within circular economies, including opportunities to be re-used and in long-duration lifespans where able. At the end of their useful life, plastic products need to be recovered and recycled to create feedstocks for new product manufacturing.
Recycling, therefore, is one of the key technology stages that contribute to achieving a plastic circular economy. In addition to design, re-use, re-manufacturing and long duration cycles, recycling plays a key role in eliminating waste and circulating materials at their highest value.
The current transition from a linear to an Australian plastic circular economy is a priority area of work for our members and partners, to help prevent pollution. Our members are leading the way with new investments to increase mechanical recycling and introduce complementary advanced, or chemical, recycling to recover more products at their end of life. These technologies convert used plastics into high value materials for new products with recycled content.
Governments have also committed to transforming Australia’s waste and recycling industry via programs including the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF). These will support an increase in the capacity of recycling facilities around the country, including the infrastructure that delivers used products to them for processing.
Plastics can be recycled by a number of different approaches including:
- Chemical or advanced
Mechanical recycling is the most common approach used for recycling plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used to make soft drink bottles, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) used to make milk bottles and polypropylene (PP) used to make a variety of consumer packaging. Mechanical recycling refers to the processing of plastics waste into secondary raw material or products without significantly changing the material’s chemical structure . It involves collection, sorting, shredding, washing and extrusion into pellets.
Chemical or advanced recycling is the conversion to monomer or production of new raw materials by changing the chemical structure of a material or substance through cracking, gasification or depolymerisation, excluding energy recovery and incineration .
Advanced recycling converts waste polymers into their original monomers, oligomers, hydrocarbons, or other valuable chemicals, such as energy and fuels, which can be reused as raw materials for the production of new plastics .
Advanced Recycling Report
Chemistry Australia and its members have collaborated with CSIRO on a report into advanced recycling. CSIRO’s Advanced recycling technologies to address Australia’s plastic waste report identifies the types of technologies available, the contribution they can make, and what is needed for their introduction.
The Report considers a range of advanced recycling technology pathways, which are increasingly being used overseas to convert plastic waste into high-value recycled plastics and other products.
The Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO) is Australia's commitment to smart packaging, less waste and a cleaner environment.
Chemistry Australia supports APCO and is a foundation signatory to the first Covenant in 1995. Chemistry Australia and its signatory members are committed to the sustainable management, use and recovery of packaging and the APCO 2025 targets.
Plastic packaging is a particularly energy and material efficient method of preserving, transporting, storing, preparing and serving food. It contributes to a wide variety of packaging types to meet the increasing demands of modern, safe living.
Plastic packaging can extend the shelf life and prevent tampering of our food. Like other applications, plastic packaging should be designed to operate within a circular economy.